Sunday, November 11, 2007

Seasonal changes

Well, thanks in part to the peculiarities of the Mid-Atlantic states, we seem to have gone straight from summer to winter, or something like it. We had a prolonged "Indian summer", followed almost immediately by chilly weather. Granted, by New England standards, it's pretty balmy, but when you go from days in the 80s to days in the 40s or 50s in a short period of time, it's kinda jarring.

Added to that is the change from Daylight Savings time back to Eastern Standard. About the same time the temperature dropped and stayed down, the days shifted to where night falls awfully early.

As a result, there have been several changes to my bicycle commute. For one thing, I see a lot fewer people, especially cyclists, on my rides. The cold and damp seem to scare all but the hardiest away from the multi-use trail that makes up about half of my trip. And it seems the runners and walkers are better able to adapt, probably due to the fact that cyclists pretty much always have a wind at their face to some degree.

And I do have to "suit up" more thoroughly these days. Where I used to be able to throw on a pair of shorts and a t shirt or jersey, now it's all about layers. Depending on how cold and wet it is, I generally have on a pair of lycra bike shorts, with a pair of thick tights over them, to keep my legs and knees warm. I never wear rain pants, as I find they just make me wet with sweat, so what's the point. For really bitter days, I may resort to surplus Swedish army pants made of heavy wool. On my upper body, it's a thin base layer of silk or lightweight wool, followed by a heavier layer of wool for insulation. By heavier, I mean about like a light sweater, not a big bulky one. Sometimes it's a nice jersey or cross-country ski top from Ibex or Icebreaker or Smartwool, and sometimes it's one of a bunch of light merino wool sweaters I've picked up on closeout from Target. It's amazing how useful a six dollar sweater can be! On my head, it's either just a helmet if it's in the high 40s, a headband or skullcap if it's a little colder, or a thin balaclava if it's really cold. Hands generally get some ragg wool gloves, with perhaps a thin liner, and a GoreTex "lobster" shell over them for wet or very cold days. I'm going to experiment a bit more with gloves this year, I think. Finally, on my feet, it's heavy wool socks, often with a thinner wool or silk liner, and most of the time my Lake cycling sandals. For colder days, I add either a waterproof shell over the socks, or a neoprene bootie, from Sealskinz. If there's actually snow on the ground, I'll sometimes resort to hiking boots and go with regular "flat" pedals.

Now the other thing is lighting. With Eastern Standard time, I'm guaranteed to be riding home in the dark, so I need good lights. My preferred set up, starting last winter, is a Shimano Dynohub generator built into my front wheel, powering a halogen front light from Busch & Muller or Basta. One of my bikes also have a generator tail light, but I mostly rely on red LED "blinkies", from Planet Bike mostly. Their Blinky 7 is great, and the new SuperFlash is startlingly bright. I generally have at least one of those, along with a blinky on the back of my helmet. In addition to the front generator light, I also have a Cateye EL-410 strapped to my helmet so I can aim it at motorist's eyes at intersections, and at signs along the road and trail. And generally, on top of all that, I have a small battery powered light clipped on the bike just in case the genny light dies. Finally, I try as much as possible to have some reflective bits and pieces on me and the bike. I guess I just don't want anyone to be able to say "I didn't see him!" Besides, I've seen enough un- or poorly- lit bicyclists in my day to make me understand the dangers.

Now, all of this may sound rather dreary and a drag. I'll admit, it does sometimes wear on me that it takes so much longer to get ready to ride, and to change once I get where I'm going. And the cold and the dark are sometimes unpleasant. But the bright side is I pretty much have the trail to myself much of the time, and I get to see and experience things many folks miss. I've spotted fox and rabbit and deer almost every night lately, in some combination. And the moon and the stars are much more vibrant in fall and winter. Most of all, I'm on my bike, a place I love being, and outside in the world, seeing it change with each passing day. And what's not to like about that?


davison said...

Still, it's better than taking the car.

Byron / Yellow Springs said...

Living and riding in the Bay Area we could just layer-up, especially well when the wicking synthetic underwear became available for any outdoor activities mostly the REI syndrome. Someone enlightened me to using wool sweaters from thrift and charity shops ...i.e. Goodwill,, where one can get wool, even cashmere, sweaters for $2 -4, if you frequent the places often to beat those 'thrifthounds' of same mind. I suppose Rivendell fostered the mentality before others.

i agree about any 'rainwear' for short riding or commuting, unless it's deluge. Another workaround is to avoid all roadspray by taking parallel side roads, generally residential ...mostly a commuter deviance.
Coming back to Ohio for the next year, I'm applying most of that Bay Area layering philosphy but needing more wool for a few more places. Legwear is the most difficult to resolve without expending on wool tights.
For online ordering deals I have found REI to have good blow-outs now and then to stock up. Still sometimes I like to support Grant at Riv; which is the $$ solution to outer legwear of fair or better 'rain mitigation'. Yet to stay comfortable with carspray,only solid 'vinyl' legs and all the booties a foot can bear will give dryness and save shoes ...and there's a big health issue resolved by staying out of it, or off the bike entirely if the raining is beyond drips and drops. Too much clean-up too.

I liked the homage to your father. Keep up his spirit in your own life and self.